“Rather than thinking about the team, players are thinking who their teammates are going to be.”
That’s from NBA super-agent Jeff Schwartz, who runs Excel Management and represents many NBA players, including new Suns point guard Ricky Rubio. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, he’s the man responsible for more than over $1 billion in salary negotiated on behalf of his clients this summer.
The quote explains Schwartz’s perspective on player movement across the league, and it comes from a place of intimate involvement, as several situations manifested in the blink of an eye that led to Schwartz’s clients heading different directions. A few of these stories are detailed in a fascinating look into 2019 NBA free agency by Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes.
Rubio was at the center of one of those instantaneous changes on the opening day of free agency. Long rumored to be headed to Indiana to join his friend Bojan Bogdanovic, things changed for Rubio when the Jazz coughed up a small fortune to lure Bogdanovic to Salt Lake City.
From Badenhausen, who spoke with Schwartz on the record for this story:
“The Indiana Pacers were looking to add a pair of high-impact players, and there was mutual interest in Rubio joining his friend Bojan Bogdanovic on the team. But when Bogdanovic agreed to a four-year deal with the Jazz, Rubio questioned if Indiana was the right fit for him.
“With Rubio not ready to commit, the Pacers pivoted their focus to point guard Malcolm Brogdon and asked Schwartz if Excel client Jeremy Lamb might be available as well. Schwartz was already talking to Charlotte about Lamb but didn’t want Rubio left stranded if the Pacers moved on. Schwartz contacted Phoenix, which was interested in Rubio and quickly agreed to a three-year, $51 million deal with the Spaniard. With Rubio locked in with Phoenix, Schwartz firmed things up for Lamb, who got $31.5 million from Indy after Brogdon committed. The whole process took less than an hour.”
Certainly the Suns deserve credit for finding a point guard who could shepherd their young group and it appears based on Rubio’s public comments he cozied up to the idea of developing young players, but had Schwartz not reached back out to Phoenix, it’s fair to wonder whether Rubio would be on the Suns’ roster right now.
You might recall that this storyline first came from Rubio himself right after he signed with Phoenix, via a Spanish journalist.
Now Schwartz’s comments confirm that it was Rubio who pivoted, not the Pacers.
The Rubio signing came as a surprise to many on June 30, as Rubio had not been linked to Phoenix in any reporting leading up to free agency. However, it’s likely the Suns didn’t believe he was a realistic target on that fateful day with Indiana being so firmly connected with him for weeks. Once Bogdanovic moved on, the Suns acted quickly to grab a good starter in Rubio.
Previously, Jared Weiss of The Athletic reported that the Suns were in discussions with Terry Rozier the first day of free agency to sign as the franchise’s next starting point guard. However, those talks likely fizzled not only once Rubio became available but also after Charlotte swooped in to offer Rozier nearly $60 million over three seasons.
In the end, it appears things worked out in Phoenix’s favor, for the most part. They paid Rubio nearly as much as Rozier ended up getting, but Rubio is probably a better fit for the culture of this young Suns team, and that has been the emphasis all summer.